By Dom Castaldo, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: Dr. Castaldo is a deer hunter and biology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College. Readers can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois hunters bagged 180,669 deer during the 2012-2013 season, which closed Jan. 20, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
Statewide, hunters took 782 fewer deer than they took during the 2011-2012 season. Although the decline is small — less than 0.5 percent — it represents a continuing drop in the state’s white-tail deer harvest. The current slide in the number of deer taken began after the record 2005-2006 season.
The smaller state deer herd may be having another consequence for non-hunters — fewer deer-vehicle collisions.
During the 2005-2006 deer hunting season, hunters bagged a total of 201,209 deer — a record that still stands. The 107-day season included the regular five-day shotgun season, the archery season, a youth hunt, the muzzle-loader season and a new late-season-Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) season. Following the discovery of CWD in deer in northern Illinois in 2002, state wildlife managers encouraged the harvesting of more deer to stop the spread of the disease.
The IDNR says the 2012-2013 deer harvest was almost evenly split between bucks — 51 percent — and does — 49 percent. The buck-to-doe harvest ratio has remained fairly consistent during the past several years.
Following the all-time record 201,209-deer harvest in 2005-2006, the Illinois deer harvest has dropped every season — including the 2012-2013 season — except for two seasons — the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 seasons. Total Illinois deer harvest numbers since the 2005-2006 seasons are: 196,241 in 2006-2007, 199,611 in 2007-2008, 188,901 in 2008-2009, 189,277 in 2009-2010, 181,936 in 2010-2011, 181,451 in 2011-2012, and 180,669 in 2012-2013. Since the 2005-2006 record harvest, the harvest dropped 10.2 percent — a 20,540-deer-per-season decrease.
It is logical to assume that the continuous decline in the harvest of Illinois deer is because of fewer deer in the woods and fields. However, other possible reasons for the lower harvests are fewer hunters pursuing deer and less land available for hunting. Some landowners lease large tracts of land to groups of few hunters. Once they bag their deer, the land remains inaccessible to other hunters.
According to IDNR data, of the 180,669 deer harvested in the state during the 2012-2013 season, shotgunners bagged 99,461 deer — 55.1 percent of the total — during the seven-day firearm season Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2012. Archers arrowed an additional 59,728 deer — 33.1 percent of the total. Beginning hunters harvested 3,124 deer — 1.7 percent of the total — during the annual Youth Deer Season, which took place Oct. 6-7. Hunters armed with muzzle-loaded rifles killed 3,630 deer — 2 percent of the total — during the three-day season in early December. During the Late Winter Antlerless hunt and CWD hunt, hunters took a combined 14,726 deer — 8.2 percent of the 2012-2013 harvest.
Deer-harvest data for the Illinois counties where deer hunting is permitted are available online at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/news/Documents/deer-preliminaryharvest-allseasonstables-2012-13.pdf.
In addition to the smaller annual deer harvests, there is another indication that the Illinois deer herd is declining. The number of reported vehicle-deer collisions also appears to be falling. In 2002, Illinois drivers hit 23,642 deer. The number jumped to 25,660 collisions in 2003. The number dropped to 24,212 in 2008 and declined to 18,849 in 2009. The drop in the number of vehicle-deer accidents in Illinois continued in 2010 when 17,135 collisions were reported. However, the number increased 5.3 percent to 18,039 accidents in 2011.
The reduction in the size of the Illinois deer herd may be too aggressive. Many deer-management experts agree that the size of the Illinois white-tail deer herd is between 700,000 and 750,000 animals. In 2008, the Illinois Joint Legislative Task Force on Deer Population Control recommended that the state’s deer herd be reduced 14 percent. To achieve this target, IDNR increased the number of deer permits available to hunters. However, the effort may be exceeding its goal. For example, with a state wide deer population of 750,000 animals, the 2012-2013 harvest of 180,669 reduced the state’s herd 24 percent — much greater than the Task Force’s recommendation of a 14 percent reduction. IDNR is reviewing its deer management programs.
2013-2014 Illinois deer hunting schedule
First Firearm Deer Season — Nov. 22-24
Second Firearm Deer Season — Dec. 5-8
First Muzzleloader Deer Season — Dec. 5-8
Second Muzzleloader Deer Season — Dec. 13-15
First Late-Winter Antlerless Deer Season — Dec. 26-29
First Late-Winter/CWD Deer Season — Dec. 26-29
Second Late-Winter/CWD Deer Season — Jan. 17-19, 2014
Archery Deer Season — Oct. 1, 2013-Jan. 19, 2014
Second Late-Winter Antlerless Deer Season — Jan. 17-19, 2014
From the Nov. 13-19, 2013, issue